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By Arienne Thompson, 

BEVERLY HILLS – Oscar fever is in the air, and no one is feeling it more acutely than supporting-actress nominee Octavia Spencer.

  • Octavia Spencer was among the stars at the Black Women In Hollywood luncheon Thursday at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

  • Octavia Spencer was among the stars at the Black Women In Hollywood luncheon Thursday at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

“For the first time I thought about it last night. I had a freak-out moment, but I can’t really talk about it because I’ll freak out (more),” Spencer, clad in Tadashi Shoji, said at Essence magazine’s annual Black Women in Hollywood lunch Thursday at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The star of The Help was honored at the event, along with fellow actresses Kerry WashingtonPaula Patton,Pam Grier and Grey’s Anatomy creator/showrunnerShonda Rimes.

The event also paid tribute to Whitney Houston, who died Feb. 11, by playing her music throughout lunch.Jordin Sparks, Houston’s co-star in the upcoming filmSparkle, remembered Houston before performing a song from the film: “She went from being this unreachable supernova pop star to my co-star to my friend.”

Emma Stone and Viola Davis presented Spencer with the award for breakthrough performance. “Your heart is just as big as your talent,” Davis told Spencer. “It’s been a privilege being on this journey with you.”

In accepting the award, Spencer teared up several times when speaking about her friendship with Stone and Davis. “I got to get off that, because it gets me emotional,” she said.

And then she started joking.

“You would not believe that Paula Patton and I have the same trainer. I think he’s spending a lot more time with you, Paula! … I’m sorry; I’m trying to keep myself from crying.”

Lee Daniels, who directed Patton in Precious, presented her with the Shining Staraward. He joked that upon seeing Patton in the 2006 film Idlewild, “this chick made me question my sexuality!” (He’s openly gay.)

Patton cried throughout her acceptance speech. “I’m not going to be able to stop crying. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. … All of this was way beyond my wildest imagination. Thank God for Essence. You celebrate black intellect and culture and artists and activists and politicians.”

She attributed her success to the black actresses who have come before her: “The success of one person is but a drop in the bucket, but the success of many … that’s a splash.”

Despite a few high-profile Oscar wins by black actors —Halle BerryDenzel Washington, Jennifer Hudson — Patton said on the red carpet that Hollywood still has a long way to go. “I know their journey, and it’s not easy. … Obviously, we know it’s better. I’m hoping we can get more people (in the industry) to think outside the box.”

Jill Scott, in a Theia dress and J. Crew cardigan, also reflected on diversity in entertainment. “We’re not all homegirl sistas; we’re not all Harvard grads; we’re not all single mothers. … We’re a spectrum, and I appreciate non-traditional casting.”

Davis, in Victoria Beckham, said she’s set to spend Oscars eve with Alfre Woodard. “What happens with Alfre stays with Alfre! The black women celebrate with Alfre. (I love it) because I can relax and be myself.”

Being herself is something Spencer also prides herself on. When asked about her planned weight loss for the Oscars, she said, “I need to lose 15 to 20 pounds, period. I’m taking it one day at a time and doing whatever the hell I want. … One meal at a time.”





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